Want a car you can schlep to work during the week and take to an autocross course or a racetrack on the weekends? They exist, trust us—you don’t need to purchase two separate cars to fill those seemingly disparate needs. You don’t even need to spend all that much money to buy one car that can handle commutes as well as tracks. Cars at the lower end of the price spectrum these days are better than ever at most things, and the vehicles listed here also happen to be adroit when it comes to road holding—without sacrificing comfortable road manners. Though not all of these fun, dual-purpose cars are your typical budget sports cars, they are all competent contenders for at least light track work. And all of them can be had with a manual gearbox, which ups the fun factor on streets or circuits.
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata | Price: $28,000
Let’s start with the obvious: The Mazda MX-5 Miata is always the answer. It almost doesn’t matter what the question is, unless, of course, you’re looking for something with more than two seats that also isn’t fun to drive. Anyone seeking out a budget-friendly excitement generator that’s easy to approach and fun to drive will want to take a hard, long look at the Miata. Sure, it’s tiny. But the Miata feels fast at nearly any speed thanks to its light weight and elemental man-machine connection; as of 2019, however, the Miata actually is kind of fast, with 181 horsepower pushing its featherweight body around. The chassis is the real star, and its ability to telegraph impending understeer, oversteer, and general grip levels through the driver’s seat and steering wheel is revelatory—and valuable for teaching newbies how to handle track driving.
2020 Toyota Corolla SE 6MT | Price: $23,705
Maybe this isn’t the Toyota you’d expect to be here, but the Corolla sedan or hatch in SE trim with a manual gearbox is a genuinely sporty car. The 2020 Corolla is a big improvement over the past generation. Not only is it well-designed inside and out, its manual gearbox with auto rev matching (!) is one of the easiest to use, especially for beginners. (It automatically raises engine revs when downshifting so that all a driver needs to do is clutch in, select a lower gear, and clutch out—no tricky heel-toe throttle blipping necessary.) While we wouldn’t necessarily take the Corolla to a track day, we could see it being fun enough on a lower-stakes, weekend autocross course. Its generally comfortable suspension means it’ll shine on your commute.
2020 Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ | Price: $28,015–$29,745
The Toyota 86 and its nearly identical cousin the Subaru BRZ are obvious contenders here. The coupes both start under 30 grand, and autocross events and track days have been awash with these two since they were introduced for 2013. They’re both extremely well-supported by the aftermarket, so owners can easily modify them, and they’re rear-wheel-drive. In fact, think of these as slightly larger, heavier Miatas with fixed roofs and (okay, nearly useless) back seats. Their added size makes them more livable than the Mazda, if only just, but their playful chassis make it easy to slide them around even at legal speeds. And, both can and should be equipped with a manual gearbox.
2019 Volkswagen Golf | Price: $22,740
We’re not going to beat around the bush here, we really like the Mk 7 Volkswagen Golf. In fact, we liked it so much that we named it MotorTrend’s 2015 Car of the Year. It’s not particularly fast, but it’s balanced, eager to turn in, and it comes with a manual option. Yes, we’re aware that the spicier Golf GTI also exists—and we very much recommend that car for enthusiasts who need it all—but the regular Golf costs much, much less and is still quite fun to wheel around while being supremely premium-feeling in everyday driving. The Golf can easily pull double duty and haul the kids and all their gear to school and soccer practice when you’re not tearing up an autocross course.
2020 Ford Mustang Ecoboost | Price: $28,410
While the base Ford Mustang EcoBoost may not be the hardcore enthusiast’s choice, it is still extremely competent and the most powerful base Mustang in history (more so in available High Performance guise). The turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder makes a solid 310 horsepower and comes standard with a six-speed manual ‘box. Mustangs are so well loved by the aftermarket that endless upgrades exist. You could easily spend upwards of $20,000 on bolt-on parts and go-faster bits, but sticking to brakes and tires should be plenty for the casual weekend track enthusiast.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro 1LS | Price: $25,000
You can’t talk about the Ford Mustang without following up with a mention of its key rival, the Chevy Camaro. In this affordable performance conversation, the Camaro’s base four-cylinder LS trim is the Mustang EcoBoost’s direct competitor. As does the Mustang, the Camaro, too, comes with a manual transmission standard. The Chevy’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine is down on power compared to the ‘Stang, with 275 horsepower to the Ford’s 310, but that disparity is partially made up for by Camaro’s lighter weight. The Chevy was MotorTrend’s Car of the Year in 2016, and though its aging looks might not be for everyone, it is a phenomenal driver’s car.
2020 Honda Civic Sport | Price: $22,505
The Honda Civic Sport trim is available on the coupe, sedan, and hatchback body styles, and we like them all very much. But, we like the slightly more worked-over hatch just a little bit more. In a recent First Test review, we said, “No other compact car is as multi-talented as the Honda Civic hatchback,.” With its suspension’s deft balance between comfort and performance, peppy turbocharged engine, and available manual transmission, the Civic Sport hatch sits near the top of the compact class both dynamically and in terms of livability.
2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo | Price: $24,305
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo is one of the newest cars on this list, and it’s properly fun, too. Even though it’s not the full-on Veloster N, the Turbo trim is still sporty in its own right. Its little 1.6-liter turbo makes a respectable 201 horsepower (that’s one more pony than in a previous-generation, Mk-6 Volkswagen Golf GTI) and the B&M shifter kit in the base Turbo R-Spec is surprisingly notchy and satisfying to use. Plus, it’s difficult to argue against the base Veloster Turbo R’s sub-$25,000 price.
Best Budget Track Cars of 2020
- Mazda MX-5 Miata: $28,000
- Toyota Corolla: $23,705
- Toyota 86: $28,015 / Subie BRZ: $29,745
- Volkswagen Golf: $22,740
- Ford Mustang Ecoboost: $28,410
- Chevrolet Camaro 1LS: $25,000
- Honda Civic Sport: $22,505
- Hyundai Veloster Turbo: $24,305
The post The Best Affordable Track-Friendly Cars You Can Buy In 2020 appeared first on MotorTrend.